Series on Deconstruction: Part 2 (The "Deconstruction Scale" and "Wounded Idealism")

Updated: Aug 19, 2021

In my previous article, I gave my own definition of deconstruction and pointed out that deconstruction can take place on a spectrum. In this article I want to give an illustration of how I perceive deconstruction and how it takes place in the lives of Christians today. If this is helpful to you, please let me know in the comments, or send me a question or comment in the “Ask a Question” tab.

I want to clarify that this is my perception of deconstruction as I've heard it discussed in a variety of settings. It's more or less a synthesis of the various perspectives I've heard on what deconstruction is (thus, a spectrum). I've realized any discussion of deconstruction is subjective. I pointed out in the first article that if you want to use the original definition, it's a postmodern theory, and hardly anyone seems to be using it that way in Christian culture. Deconstruction, because of the neutrality of the word, needs context and explanation. This is why I thought my take on the word (on a spectrum going from minimal to severe) might be helpful.

The Deconstruction Scale

When we go into the doctor and we sit down on the medical table, we will often see somewhere in the room a sheet of paper that asks, “What is your pain level?” You’ll see a happy face at one end with a series of faces that look increasingly more uncomfortable and pained.

I like to view deconstruction in a similar way:

  • Some of us are just fine with our beliefs and assumptions about our faith, God, or the world. Those people would be at level 0, experiencing no deconstruction.

  • Some of us, however, are shedding some beliefs and assumptions, but what we are shedding are not integral to our belief system, but more or less peripheral beliefs. This would be around 1-3 of the deconstruction scale.

  • Others are facing higher levels of deconstruction, with beliefs we previously considered important to our faith, but not essential or integral. This would be around 4-6 on the deconstruction scale.

  • Once we get to 7-9 of the deconstruction scale we are shedding beliefs that have been foundational to our faith. We are getting close to losing our worldview entirely.

  • Finally, the person who is at level 10 on the deconstruction scale has deconstructed their faith entirely. They have given up on all their previous beliefs and assumptions about God, faith, and the world and have resigned to either agnosticism, atheism, or a life that is practically agnostic or atheistic. When someone is at level 10, and sometimes levels 7-9 on the deconstruction scale, it may rightly be called not only deconstruction, but destruction.

Notice that I avoided putting emotions on this scale. This is because some are deconstructing with great elation and because they have been greatly burdened by their beliefs and assumptions. Others may be going through a tremendous amount of emotional and psychological pain when they begin to let go of some beliefs, partly because their deconstruction will bring disconnection from their group, either straining or cutting off relationships with friends and family.

The emotions involved in deconstruction will have to take place on a totally different scale. Some may be deconstructing lower on this scale and experiencing a very high amount of emotion or internal struggle. On the other hand, we all know the stories about young Christians who go off to college and are more than happy to let go of their beliefs and constraints completely so they can live without the boundaries imposed on them by church and family. They are eager to let go of beliefs and happier to see them go.

I also want to point out that this scale is about the level of beliefs someone is shedding. My point is that shedding the belief that Jesus dies on the cross for our sins, or a belief in God in general is obviously more integral to Christian faith than, say, deciding you are no longer a young earth creationist! However, the Young Earth Creationist may still feel they are giving up something integral to their belief system.

Personally, I prefer to avoid levels 7-9 on the deconstruction scale as much as I can and to stay within the 0-6 range. Since I’m a very inquisitive person, I usually fluctuate around this portion of the scale. I believe this is a healthy level of deconstruction and questioning of my beliefs and assumptions.

I still strive, however, to have compassion and empathy for those who are further down on the "Deconstruction Scale." I do my best to listen and understand what they are thinking and feeling. I hope they will come back to a more healthy level of deconstruction, but I recognize that everyone is on a journey and I can't control where my friends or family are at in that journey.

Wounded Idealism

With the "Deconstruction Scale" in mind, I want to point out that deconstruction at its root is not always about intellectual beliefs, but involves our emotions surrounding those beliefs and a discontent with how they have worked themselves out in our lives.

People often struggle with beliefs emotionally for a long time before they start thinking about letting them go intellectually.

I’ve realized that my own deconstruction has (and still does) involve a thing called “wounded idealism.” I learned about this concept in a book called “Healing of a Wounded Idealist” by Justin and Irene Renton.

An idealist is a person who is a dreamer, a person for whom “life is full of endless possibilities… Imagination and fantasy open a world of promise and hope.” (pg. 23, Healing of a Wounded Idealist)